Tonight was the last preview of the first musical of the 2008-2009 Broadway season. [title of show] opens on the Great White Way, Thursday July 17th at the Lyceum Theatre after a start at the New York Musical Festival, development at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and a run at the Vineyard Theatre off-Broadway.
I mention the shows production history because it's at the core of what the show is all about. The musical is about "two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical." Got that?
Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, who wrote the music and lyrics respectively, play Jeff and Hunter in the show. Basically the two authors play themselves for a musical journey of them writing the very play they are performing in as the 90 intermission-less minutes pass. Also along for the ride are Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, "lady friends" of Jeff and Hunter who are there to help them with the show. We are taken from the idea of writing a musical, through the musical festival, through the run at the Vineyard, and end on opening night of Broadway.
If this is all confusing to you, it's because it is. When watching a show as an audience member we understand that the actor playing the character isn't really saying those words, or actually feeling those emotions. But of course the most effective performances are ones where those lines between actor and character are blurred; you can't tell where the actor ends and the character begins.
In [title of show], since everyone is essentially playing themselves, when the actors/characters start talking about deeply personal moments, the effect is profound. Here we have a play where honest to God real people are telling us how they really feel. Because of this sort of post-modern meta-effect, the show has an authentic feel that you rarely get with a musical.
The show is full of theatre insider humor. It is not so much a backstage musical, although all of those conventions are there, but more a musical about fans of theatre. Not the people who leave their Playbill behind, but the people who not only save it but buy Playbills of shows they haven't seen on eBay to add to their collection. Not the people who moan when they see an understudy slip in their program, but those who drop everything to go see the matinee performance of Wicked, because the third replacement stand by is finally going on for Galinda.
It's definitely that kind of theatre lovers show. But fun can be had for all, like a Saturday Night Live skit that is spoofing a movie you haven't seen yet, you can still relate and find humor. You may not get everything, but you understand it enough.
The show has a strong appeal to artists as Jeff and Hunter struggle at first to find inspiration for their work, then as it begins to become more popular, they have to deal with outside forces wanting to "clean up" or "fix" their show.
Of course we know the ending as the show opens Thursday on Broadway. But it's has a unique "little show that could" feel that not every backstage musical possesses. It gives out the kind of American dream hope that, yes, two "nobodies" can just write a show, and then one day, maybe it'll be on Broadway. Thursday will be a dream come true for these performers and writers.
It makes me want to grab some friends, a piano, and a barn and put on a show!